Sein und Schein (True or False)

Sarma 25 Feb 1999English

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Contextual note
This text was first published on Sarma on the occasion of its colloquium 'Unfolding the Critical' (March 2003), where Alexander Baervoets took part in a dialogue.

Sein und Schein

to conserve dance is impossible - we have to recognise that dance only lasts for a wink - movement comes and disappears - we cannot hold on to it - all our efforts to conserve dance are idle - we standardise it, we note it down, we video it, we repeat it (at least we try to, as this is a vain effort as well) - we try to remember it

Sein und Schein

dance has no past : it is hard to remember a dance, even the minute after we saw it - the dancer too only has a vague memory of his own dancing - this is definitely the case in improvisation, but it is also true for a set choreography - the experience of the dancing fades away immediately after the act

Sein und Schein

now, if we state that dance has no past, we have to conclude that it also has no future - dance happens here and now - the dancing of today will be lost tomorrow - because of the dancing being such an ephemeral art,

unlike architecture or fine art, dancing only lives in the momentum - dance is contemporary in essence - it is always related to the performer, the event, the public, and so on - it is only a instantaneous event, it does not last, it cannot be held in time, it cannot be reduced to a frozen image - therefore it cannot be revived and it cannot live on

to save dance from being lost, if we want it to live on, it has to be remodelled continuously - we have to change the dancers, because the old ones left the company, or became too old or even died; we change the choreography each time we perform in a different venue; etc. In this respect, it is no surprise that when an old ballet is revived, all that is not dance is restored with great respect and effort and dance itself is changed completely to the taste of the moment (e.g. Bournonville)

We may think this ephemeral character of dance is problematic, but does anyone ever think sport events are problematic because they cannot be revived ? Would anyone who is right in his mind ever try to replay the European cup-final between England and (in those days Western) Germany ? The thrill in sport is to have been there, live if possible, otherwise to have witnessed it via television, radio or newspaper. The closest you’ve been, the better. Those who were not there, will envy you...

People of my age will remember the landing on the moon. Most of us were not there. But we will remember the event and probably we will remember where we were at that moment, whether we saw it "live" on television, or were driving a car, with whom we were, etc.

So, there is nothing wrong with remembering an event, like : “I saw Martha Graham dance Frontier or Lamentation”, but how can we possibly want to recreate the piece, the atmosphere, the whole cultural world of those days ? A performance will always be linked to a moment in time and a place in space. It is a fact of life that things don’t last. Let’s face it.

Whereas I have spoken so far about dance in a larger framework, these remarks are valid also when we consider dance from closer by. Imagine you are a dancer in a performance : when you try to foresee where a dance will lead to, you are no longer dealing with the here and now, and thus you loose the essential of the dancing - you start anticipating, and therefor you cut off the movement : you do not sit, but you prepare the next step, you do not step because you prepare the next jump (so often do I have to say to dancers : “sit, now, really sit” or “don’t act as if you jump, but jump !”) - It sounds odd, but dancers often fake dance! I think musicians deal with the same problem : the automatic pilot. Before you know it, the score is finished. You just played the notes and you missed out the musical depth and/or emotion of the piece.

Sein und Schein

choreography as we know it is against the true nature of dance and kills the dancing - we simply cannot repeat dance - now this is something : should we stop dancing because we cannot hold it longer than the moment it takes, should we stop choreographing because it takes away the essence of dance, should we despair because the dancing stops when the dancer stops, should we envy photography because in dance we cannot copy, should we envy architecture because buildings last (they last, but they don’t move - you can’t have both)

to this I say : the ephemerality of dance is its strength! every performance is unique! dance cannot be copied and therefor it is the ultimate expression of human life - to learn to live with the fact that nothing lasts is an esthetical and an ethical goal to strive for - in learning to deal with dance, we learn to deal with life, we learn to deal with death -
it is unethical to copy dance - it is unethical to set a choreography - to do this is a sign of weakness, of moral cowardliness - it is against the nature of dance, movement and life itself - we should get rid of choreography in order to find true movement

dance and meaning

the marriage of dance and theatre is an unhappy one - dance should get rid of its link with the theatre - theatre is the world of the fake and dance can be true - in theatre everything is make-believe whereas in dance we can truly dance - it is only by a coincidence that the history of theatre and dance are linked - at first dance was taken into the theatre to embellish, as a sort of interlude - dancing was only dancing - later, dance was lured into the fake world of the theatre as choreographers started using themes, stories, characters and so on - all this is not essential to dancing - there is nothing wrong with a dancer wearing a specific costume, for instance, for the costume can add to the dancing - it becomes problematic though, when the costume is derived from a “persona” that takes over from the person who is actually dancing, because instead of adding to the dancing, this costume (and the persona) becomes a restriction to the dancer - the dancer will have to fake

theatralicallity is linked to the “logos”, the world of the mind, while the dancing is a matter of the body in the first place - motion and emotion are the languages of the body - if the “word” precedes the movement, we deprive the body from its potentials, even from its essentials

dance is wider than this theatrical perception - it is also movement - and movement has a much wider audience than dance - everybody knows the thrill of a fast car or skiing down a slope or even falling in your sleep - when it comes to this sort of movement, people don’t ask for meaning - they immediately understand what is so fascinating about moving - in many performances, this link is lost - the public has grown accustomed to meaningful dancing and now wants it to be meaningful - it needs to “understand” a performance on a logical level - so, the choreographer gives the public what it wants - they start from a story, a theme, a political statement or anything else that the critical mind can perceive and evaluate - however, in doing so, in putting meaning before movement, the choreographer perverts his dancing - in putting meaning to movement, the movement becomes false - if we want true movement, we have to get rid of the meaning.